Monday, June 16, 2008

Eulogy--I can't do this

Somehow it came about that I am requested by my father to write and then say a eulogy for my mother's memorial service.

I told him I thought I could do it. But I think I must have lied.

Have any of you ever written/given a eulogy?

The things that come out of my brain, through my fingers, through the keyboard, and onto the page ... involve rather a lot of ... darkness. Then there is ... a good bit of light as well. But ...

It seems like there is a real danger of the darkness overwhelming the light. And that doesn't seem to be the way it should be. Even though that's the way it feels like the "real world" (ha, see how metanarrative tries to creep in) is.

If we refuse to try to impose metanarrative into the local narrative, then surely it's reasonable to acknowledge that there exist local narratives which are profoundly dark. Or as Megan put it a while ago--what about those people who live and die in darkness, alone?

Is it wrong, somehow, at a memorial service, to acknowledge that the weave of quilt 57 years in the weaving is largely composed of dark threads?

Is the work of a eulogist to tell *their own* story about the deceased? Or does the eulogist have an even harder job than that? And even if their work is only to tell *their own* story, that still leaves questions about the work of a story teller. Is a story teller allowed to tell story that is profoundly dark, story that brings intense heaviness, story that manages somehow to get in touch with the underlying fallenness of the world? I mean ... see how meta narrative keeps creeping in. Some would insist the story teller must include at least as powerful a redemption element as their fall of humanity element. What if, from the storytellers point of view, the redemption element is only approximately as strong as the fallenness element? Or what if the redemption element seems somewhat weaker than the fallenness element.

See. Metanarrative seems unavoidable. So much for being post modern.

I've got the "acknowledge the darkness" thing down. It's the "surprise with glory" bit I can't seem to get a grasp on.

Maybe I'll just give up. Wait. Not "Maybe". "Probably", rather.


Alan said...


How I Remember Your Mom

When we went to school together, I remember being in Chapel one morning, and hearing Pastor Compston say something that I thought was technically incorrect. Being the smart-ass even at such a young age, I spoke up with the correct answer. I've since learned to control my tongue, but people spouting bogus information still irks me. After Chapel your Mom took me aside and explained to me very sternly, but compassionately, how it wasn't appropriate to correct the Pastor, or other adults. I remembering being ashamed, not of what I did, but of disappointing your Mom. I apologized to her, and instinctively gave her a hug. I still remember that hug to this day.

D said...

I, too, have trouble with seeing beyond the dark.

It is only in the small moments that light ever breaks through for me. But what happens when those who gave us those light moments are no longer?

Sometimes, I think maybe, Frederick Buechner was right that when the epistle writer said there was faith, hope and love and that the greatest was love isn't as applicable today. We can all imagine love. It's not a concept so great, perhaps any more. But hope, elusive hope, perhaps that is the greatest of these.

Just thoughts. I wish you well.

gretta at lothlorien said...

I think what a eulogy does is try to express what was precious about the person. They may have had a difficult, or even "dark" life, and a eulogy shouldn't avoid that fact, but how did they deal with that difficulty? Your Mum seems to be going through this suffering in a very special way, blessing those around her, for instance. Seren and I were talking about her last night -about how gentle she seemed to us. Bless you Bens - you'll get there.

Joe said...

No, I haven't. I might also struggle to find things to say about my mother.

I guess I'd be thinking about the other people at the service, thinking about how to say something of help to them in their grief. I don't think I could bring myself to paint a totally black picture - if my mother was truly evil, I probably wouldn't attend the funeral at all.

So I'd probably start by trying to think of positive memories and things to say about my mother. I'd probably try to avoid talking about the things I really hated - or at least try to couch them in semi-humorous terms.

I dunno mate, I'm sure that isn't helping.

The best eulogy I ever heard was to my wife's grandma. Someone said that she got up every morning, looked at the calendar and wrote a birthday card to someone she knew - which deftly avoided talking about her in too much syrupy language or pointing out her faults.

Rachel said...

At my dad's memorial service, I got up and told three or four funny stories about him and I told them in an animated way that made everyone laugh. (I had written some very brief notes on a little piece of paper to remind me of what I wanted to say.) I wanted to only tell funny things because that was the only way I could speak without crying. The rest of the service, I just held tightly to my Gramps' hand and sat there in a daze.

It kind of feels to me as though a memorial service is something you have to get through one way or the other with the most authenticity and yet self-protectiveness possible. Then when most everyone goes home and the flowers wilt and cards stop coming, you can get on with the real business of grieving supported by the few remaining people who turn out to be your real friends.

Rachel said...

Oh yes, and I also spoke at my Gramps' memorial service (eight months after dad's). I read aloud a letter that my dad had written to my Gramps many years earlier. So I didn't have to come up with anything, just read the letter.

Rachel said...

Another thought: I mentioned that I had experienced a need for both authenticity and self-protectiveness. Authenticity is very important because there is little that is more isolating and soul-stealing than getting up in front of a group of people and saying things you know are a bunch of bulls--t.

At the same time, there is the (perhaps) competing interest of self-protection, the need to shield yourself from all sorts of busybody, unhelpful concern. As in, "Oh dear, did you hear Benjamin's eulogy? It was terribly dark and depressing. We simply must try to cheer him up/help him to have more faith/urge him to take Prozac."

Of course, such people should be avoided/ignored/firmly shown the door. I wish I had had the strength to do that. I think now I would.

Benjamin Ady said...


Thank you for your ideas! I tend to rather overestimate my ability for self-protection. A number of years ago I developed a useful mental framework for psychological self protection which involves an imaginary blue force field which catches everthing people say and holds it while wise-Benjamin (that's one of my interior personalities) decides whether to let it through or not. If wise-Benjamin decides against it, it gets mentally flicked in such a way that it disappears in a direction that is at right angles to all the directions we are aware of. I suppose that sounds pretty wierd, but it works reasonably well when I remember to turn it on. Alas, I tend to forget to turn it on when I was supposed to have remembered. Oh well.

My tendency is to go a bit overboard with the authenticity thing, and let the self protection chips fall where they may. =).